Mother of Us All
Ammachi – The Hugging Saint
Mother-of-us-all prays to free us
from our image of perfection
to which so much suffering clings.
When in the shadowy mind
we imagine ourselves imperfectly,
praying to be freed from gravity
by enlightenment, she refines our prayers.
Putting her arms around us
she bids us rest our head on her shoulder
whispering, Don’t you know
with all your fear and anger
all you are fit for is love.
Ammachi- Jai Jai Janani (Amma means “Mother”)
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi was born Sudhamani Idamannel in the small village of Parayakadavu (now partially known as Amritapuri), Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala in 1953. Her schooling ended when she was nine, and she began to take care of her younger siblings and the family domestic work full-time.
As part of her chores, Sudhamani gathered food scraps from neighbors for her family’s cows and goats. Amma says at these times she was confronted with the intense poverty and suffering of others. She would bring these people food and clothing from her own home. Her family, which were not wealthy, scolded and punished her. Amma also began to spontaneously embrace people to comfort them in their sorrow. It was not permissible for a 14-year-old girl to even touch others, especially men. But despite adverse reactions by her parents, Amma continued. Regarding her embracing of others, Amma has said, “I don’t see if it is a man or a woman. I don’t see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering.”
Despite numerous attempts by her parents to arrange marriage for her, Amma rejected all suitors. In 1981, after various seekers had begun residing at her parents' property in Parayakadavu for the sake of being Amma's disciples, a worldwide organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, was founded. Amma serves as chairperson of the Math. Today the Mata Amritanandmayi Math is engaged in many spiritualand charitable activities.
In 1987, at the request of devotees, Amma began to conduct programs in countries throughout the world. She has done so annually ever since. Countries Amma has held programs in include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dubai, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, Reunion, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America. She also makes annual tours of India.
Many people come to Amma to receive her embrace, which she refers to as darshan. Amma has been giving darshan in this manner since her late teenage years. As to how this began, Amma says, "People used to come and tell [me] their troubles. They would cry and I would wipe their tears. When they fell weeping into my lap, I used to hug them. Then the next person too wanted it… And so the habit picked up." Amma's organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, claims Amma has embraced more than 29 million people throughout the world. · 
When asked, in 2002, to what extent does she think her embraces help the ills of the world? Amma replied, "I don’t say I can do it 100 percent. Attempting to change the world [completely] is like trying to straighten the curly tail of a dog. But society takes birth from people. So by affecting individuals, you can make changes in the society and, through it, in the world. You cannot change it, but you can make changes. The fight in individual minds is responsible for the wars. So if you can touch people, you can touch the world."
Amma's darshan is the centerpiece of her life, as she has received people nearly every day since the late 1970s. With the size of the crowds coming to seek Amma's blessings increasing, there are times when she gives darshan continuously for more than 20 hours. In a conversation recorded in the 2004 book From Amma's Heart, Amma says: "As long as these hands can move a little bit and reach out to those who come to her, and as long as there is a little strength and energy to place her hands on a crying person’s shoulder and caress and wipe their tears, Amma will continue giving darshan. To lovingly caress people, console and wipe their tears, until the end of this mortal frame is Amma’s wish."
Amma's world-wide charitable mission comprises a program to build 100,000 homes for the homeless, three orphanages, relief-and-rehabilitation in the face of disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, free medical care, pensions for widows and disabled people, environmental-protection groups, slum renovation, care homes for the elderly, and free food and clothing for the poor, amongst others.These projects are managed and run by various organizations, including the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (India), the Mata Amritanandamayi Center (USA), Amma-Europe, Amma-Japan, Amma-Kenya, Amma-Australia, etc. All the organizations collectively are known as Embracing the World.
When asked about how her charitable mission's development in 2004, Amma said, "As for the activities, there was no planning. Everything happened spontaneously. One thing led to another on seeing the plight of the poor and the distressed. As Amma meets each and every person, she sees their problems face to face and tries to do something to alleviate their suffering. Om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu is one of the important mantras of Sanatana Dharma, which means, 'May all the beings in all the worlds be happy and peaceful.' The spirit of this mantra was put into action."
The majority of work is done by volunteers as a form of spiritual practice. "It is Amma’s wish that all of her children should dedicate their lives to spreading love and peace throughout the world. Real love and devotion for God is to have compassion for the poor and the suffering," Amma says. "My children, feed those who are hungry, help the poor, console the sorrowful, comfort the suffering, be charitable to all.”